Love story

Fringe show spins R.T. RybakÂ’s tenure into romantic comedy

Heather Meyer's homemade Rybak doll promotes her Fringe play on the outgoing mayor. Credit: By Dylan Thomas

One of the great romances of Mayor R.T. Rybak’s life will be portrayed onstage during this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival, but nowhere on the playbill will you find a character named Megan O’Hara.

So what did Rybak’s wife and the mother of their two children think of that?

“We all laughed,” Rybak said recently. “We thought it was funny. My wife wondered why they’re writing about my love affair with some other woman named Minneapolis.”

The work of writer-director Heather Meyer, “RT+MPLS: The Legend of Mayor R.T. Rybak” fancifully renders the outgoing mayor’s three terms in office as a romantic comedy. The story of a man’s love for his city, it is “more toast than roast,” Meyer said, focusing less on contentious stadium debates than the mayor’s penchant for crowd surfing.

She puts genre tropes to work in her script. The story Rybak’s upstart 2001 campaign to unseat Sharon Sayles Belton? To Meyer, it sounded a lot like the classic rom-com setup, with the unlikely suitor pursuing a skeptical love interest.

Recalled Rybak: “I had a lot of convincing to do, and sometimes it did feel like dating someone above your level — ‘out of your league’ I guess is the term.” 

The legend

A North Dakota native, Meyer moved here in 2006 to join the National Theatre for Children, where she develops educational plays that tour the country. She’s not unlike many of the city’s young professionals in that Rybak is the only Minneapolis mayor she’s ever known.

“When he made the announcement this winter that he wasn’t going to run again, I honestly felt a collective Minneapolis wave of, like, ‘Really?’” she said. “I was like: Who is going to replace this guy? He’s such an icon.”

Fringe Festival slots are granted through a lottery process, and when Meyer put her name in for the January drawing, she had just the germ of an idea for a show. Scriptwriting began with Meyer asking all of her friends and coworkers to share their impressions of the mayor, and their responses proved the legend of Rybak blends myth and fact:

The mayor wears mismatched socks.

“That’s always been true,” Rybak said. “About 15 years ago I stopped matching socks and it saved me a little bit of time in the morning [and] a whole lot of headache.”

He loves Nice Ride, the city bike-sharing service that started operations in 2010.

“Yep,” he said. “Helped start it. Love it.”

Rybak always wears teal.

Not quite true, but close. Inspired by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s iconic green bus (not to mention the green “Wellstone!” lawn signs and bumper stickers), Rybak adopted teal as the official color of his campaigns. His supporters refer to themselves as Team Teal.

“I always wear teal in parades,” he added. “Every once in a while when I give a big political speech, I wear a teal tie.”

Rybak plays the banjo.

Not true. Rybak said he “plays absolutely no instruments whatsoever,” and offered a likely explanation for the rumor.

“Once when the curtain went up at a Trampled by Turtles concert I needed a quick prop and I asked them if I could hold a banjo,” he said. “That’s literally all I can do, is hold the banjo.”

The mayor loves Trampled by Turtles.

True (see above).

“I love them and a lot of other local musicians,” Rybak added. “I once asked whether somebody could be both a mayor and a roadie for Trampled by Turtles, but in fact it’s impossible.”

A hipster city

Exactly how Rybak is portrayed in this fantasy version of his tenure (the second-longest in city history) is a bit of a secret. The role has more to do with the public’s perception of Ryback than the man himself, and at least two actors get a crack at it, including Michael Krefting.

“I hadn’t realized [Rybak] was 57,” Krefting said. “I was like, ‘What?’ He seemed so young and vibrant. Lively.”

Anna Weggel plays Minneapolis with a definite Uptown swagger.

“I’m playing her as if she’s kind of a badass,” Weggel said, describing the character as “our hipster version of Minneapolis.”

“She smokes and she drinks, and she does not like R.T. at first,” Weggel added.

Rybak said he, O’Hara and some of his staffers plan to be in the audience at least once during the five-night run. Asked if he thought of his relationship with the city in terms of romance, Rybak offered this modified assessment: “It’s been a 12-year romantic comedy with a little bit of tragedy and a lot of theater of the absurd.”

“It’s really true that 12 years ago Minneapolis took a risk on somebody totally unknown, and I hope it worked out OK,” he added. “It did for me. And maybe it reminds people that, in politics and maybe sometimes in love, take a risk and sometimes it will work out.”

“RT+MPLS: The Legend of R.T. Rybak” runs Aug. 1, 4, 6, 9 and 11 at New Century Theatre, 615 Hennepin Ave., during the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Tickets are $12 for adults with the purchase of a $4 Fringe button.